Fran Lebowitz: Pretend It’s a City
My review of the 7-part Netflix documentary featuring Fran Lebowitz and directed by Martin Scorsese. “Pretend It’s a City.”
Talking and more important, listening, are lost skill sets, and seemingly now — antiquated art forms.
Never has this been so glaringly obvious to me than being engulfed by the abyss of social and emotional disconnection after shutting off and now pondering the 7-part Netflix docu-interview spontaneity of Pretend It’s a City, directed by Martin Scorsese, who appears on camera throughout.
Imagine: Sitting and having a conversation with, and listening to just one person….for 3.5 hours.
Fran Lebowitz is one of a few intellectuals and malcontents who is able to command our attention throughout. If somehow you find the topic uninteresting, wait 90 seconds. Like stormy weather, the discussion moves fast and things change quickly.
Lebowitz is one of the few writers who is able to convey both originality and wit just as much in a casual conversation as the more rehearsed and plotted written word (something I struggle with constantly as someone who has attempted to do both). While viewing and listening, I often found myself nodding along and wondering — why hasn’t anyone else thought of that — it’s so obvious?
The 70-year-old anti-conformist non-activist comes across as the consummate New Yorker, is both a breath of fresh air and a shot of aged scotch. Even opinions of hers where I disagree, I found myself leaning forward, eager to hear (and learn) more. I also found myself laughing throughout the Netflix series, a reaction shared by Scorsese who conducted dozens of interviews and shares an obvious affinity for the subject matter (New York, America, Life, Food, Money, and all the quirks of the modern-day experience) and is the perfect brick wall for Lebowitz’s cerebral graffiti.
The documentary came about entirely by accident, which is what makes it work so well and is so much fun to enjoy. Lebowitz and Scorsese, disparate in so many ways, developed an odd friendship at a party many years ago and over the course of that unexpected relationship recognized that cameras and microphones in a sort of “fly on the wall” experience while eavesdropping might make for an intriguing project. If nothing else, they would have some fun. Well, they were correct on both counts.
Allow me to also note that this wonderful feast of wisdom comes delivered not as a single overwhelming meal, but instead into multiple 30-minute appetizers. Certainly, a long documentary would have been engaging (and there’s one on HBO which was very good released a few years ago). However, segregating Lebowitz’s many sermons and rants works much better when she’s laser-focused on discussing topics relating to each show.
Lebowitz has made a brilliant career and became a celebrated public figure by often talking about herself, and it’s her brutal honesty and unapologetic opinions on everything which endear her to some while making her polarizing to others. However, her observations, while seemingly self-reflective and even introspective, tell us far more about ourselves and each other.
Now, if we will only listen.